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Safety

Half of women in Ireland have experienced sexual violence, according to major CSO survey

The CSO has released the results of a major survey into the prevalence of sexual violence in Ireland.

AT LEAST HALF of women in Ireland have experienced a form of sexual violence in their lifetime, according to a major new survey by the Central Statistics Office.

52% of women and 28% of men reported experiencing sexual violence to the Sexual Violence Survey 2022, which set out to understand the prevalence of sexual violence in Ireland.

CSO Statistician Helen McGrath explained that “sexual violence is defined in this survey as a range of non-consensual experiences, from non-contact experiences to non-consensual sexual intercourse”.

21% of women and 5% of men reported experiencing non-consensual sexual intercourse over their lifetime, while 10% of women experienced non-consensual sexual intercourse as an adult when they were unable to give consent.

17% of men aged 25-34 experienced non-consensual sexual touching as an adult.

Of people who experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, 78% knew the perpetrator.

The survey did not interview children but it did ask adults about their experiences when they were a child. 20% said they experienced unwanted contact sexual violence as a child 19% said they experienced unwanted non-contact sexual violence.

15% of adults experienced sexual violence both as an adult and as a child, while 11% experienced it only as an adult and 14% only as a child.

Women were almost four times more likely than men to have experienced sexual violence both as an adult and as a child (23% compared to 6%) and more than twice as likely to have experienced it as an adult only (16% compared to 6%).

The rate of experience of sexual violence for women was similar as a child (36%) or as an adult (39%). However, for men, sexual violence as a child (22%) occurred at almost double the rate of adulthood (12%).

Among young adults aged 18-24, women experienced sexual violence both as an adult and as a child (35%) at almost four times the rate that young men did (9%), while young men experienced sexual violence as a child only (24%) at a higher rate than young women (14%).

47% of adults who experienced sexual violence had spoken to someone about it, with women more likely to have told someone about an experience than men (53% compared to 34%).

Adults between the ages of 18-24 and 25-34 had the highest rate of disclosure at 50%, compared to 41% for those aged 65 and over.

McGrath said that the results provide “important detail and insight on a very serious and sensitive societal issue”.

“We appreciate that behind the data in today’s publication are a range of individual stories, which speak to the lived experience of those who have, and those who have not, experienced sexual violence,” McGrath said.

The complex research represented a significant undertaking for the CSO as it sought to create an ethical survey that could accurately capture the statistics, which are often under-reported. It drew on work by the World Health Organisation on principles for ethics and safety in research on violence against women.

While the survey was being administered, it was referred to as the ‘Safety of the Person’ survey to try to protect respondents who may have been in an ongoing abusive relationship.

The concepts and questions used in the survey went through a series of testing before they were implemented.

The CSO invited a sample of 12,665 people to participate in the survey and received 4,575 responses.  

“Ethical considerations also led to the decision to have a graduated and less explicit introduction to the survey. After this initial introduction, before the respondent began the main part of the survey, they were informed clearly about the nature of the survey and their consent was sought before they could proceed through to the survey questionnaire,” the CSO has outlined.

“To ensure that a wide range of respondents could engage with the survey, a range of data collection modes was used: secure web-form, face-to-face with a confidential element for the sensitive questions, and a paper form. The vast majority of respondents replied via the secure web-form.”

More information on how the survey was conducted and how it defined sexual violence is available on the CSO website.

‘Concerning’

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One programme this afternoon, Minister for Justice Simon Harris said the report contained “a lot of concerning information”.

“One of the things that I think is extremely concerning and very interesting at one level is that 500 people who took part in the CSO survey had never disclosed the sexual violence they had encountered to anybody in their life,” he said.

“I think that gives you a real indication of this scale of work that needs to be undertaken and is being undertaken in terms of changing culture, in terms of really trying to adopt a zero tolerance approach.”

Harris said the most harrowing fact that he took from the report was that nearly one in five women have experienced rape as an adult in Ireland.

He said the data from the report is needed “no matter how uncomfortable or shocking it is, because it’s only by having it can we begin to measure progress and also begin to have this conversation about the cultural and societal change that needs to happen in Ireland too”. 

Harris said work was being done to increase sentencing for assault causing harm and that he would be bringing forward a new Sexual Offences Bill that will reform the law around consent, but he said that the culture in Ireland also needs to change. 

“What this report tells us today is the majority of adults – almost eight out of 10 – who experienced sexual violence experienced it from someone they know: their partner, their friend, somebody in the workplace.

“No little baby boy is born an abuser. What happens in our society, what happens in our homes, what happens in our schools, matters.

“The zero tolerance strategy that we have, of course, rightly puts pressure on us to do more as a Government and we’re up for that and we’re doing it… but it’s every single person listening to this programme, every single family this evening around the dinner table not just to be shocked, but to say ‘what do we actually do to get on top of this as a society to change the culture?’”

He said Government is increasing funding for organisations supporting people affected by sexual violence, but accepted that it has a lot more to do.

“We’re making sure that no matter what part of Ireland you live in now, that for the very first time, when you come forward to report to the gardaí.. that there are trained gardaí and that there are specialist units in every single Garda division.

“I fully accept on a victim’s journey, and the rollout of counselling, we do have more to do. But we have a €363 million plan to adopt a zero tolerance approach to domestic, sexual and gender based violence.”

‘Shocking’

In a statement, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Noeline Blackwell welcomed the report.

“It has been far too long since the last survey which led to the SAVI report in 2002, commissioned by DRCC and carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). This survey sets a new standard for defining sexual violence on an international level,” she said.

“Nonetheless and even if consistent with other surveys, it is shocking to see the level of sexual violence that persists in our society today.

“In light of these figures, it is more important than ever that we acknowledge the harm done by sexual violence and continue to provide supports to victims and survivors. Not only that, but we must build a society that recognises the impact of non-consensual activity and works to eradicate it.”

One in Four, a Dublin-based charity that supports adult survivors of sexual abuse, also welcomed the report, but said the incidence of sexual violence “remains alarmingly high”.

“If similar statistics referred to a childhood illness or disease it would be a national emergency,” the charity said.

“No expense would be spared to devise systems to identify those children affected and to fund treatment services. Public health prevention programmes on the scale of the Covid response would be in place. We would invest in research to find effective treatments and to understand the causes.

“We know the immensely destructive impact sexual abuse has on the lives of individual survivors and on society as a whole. We also know that new forms of child sexual abuse are evolving all the time, especially on the internet.

“This new research must be a wake-up call for us all and presents a serious challenge to the government, child protection services and law enforcement.”

The charity also called for a national taskforce to be set up to examine and implement actions that will “fundamentally tackle the underlying causes of child sexual abuse”.

Support is available at:

  • National Sexual Violence Helpline: 1800 778 888 or rapecrisishelp.ie
  • National Domestic Violence Helpline (for women): 1800 341 900
  • Male Advice Line (for men experiencing domestic abuse): 1800 816 588
  • Dublin Rape Crisis Centre: 1800 77 88 88 or drcc.ie
  • Galway Rape Crisis Centre: 1800 355 355 or galwayrcc.org
  • Sexual Violence Centre Cork: 1800 496 496 or sexualviolence.ie

Additional reporting from Jane Moore

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